Not Enough

Part of the Water: H2O = Life exhibition.

What do you think of as "enough" water? Enough to avoid feeling thirsty? Enough to take a long shower every day? Water experts say the minimum needed to meet the basic human needs of drinking, cooking, and hygiene is 20 liters (five gallons) of clean water per person per day. It's far from enough to ensure health and well-being-- just enough to get by. For comparison, that's about the contents of an average water cooler.

Yet even that amount would seem like an abundance to the many people on Earth living under conditions of extreme water scarcity. Those people routinely have less than five liters (1.3 gallons) a day available for use. How much is that? Less than one flush of a low-flush toilet.

By the Numbers

In 27 developing countries, most of them in Asia and Africa, clean, relatively convenient water is unavailable to half their rural population, or about 900 million people.

Public Water, Private Water

In recent years, some cities have made providing drinking water a for-profit business rather than a public utility. While this strategy--called privatization--has worked in a few places, it usually results in higher water costs. And though infrastructure sometimes improves when businesses take over, private ownership can mean that the poor can no longer afford this vital resource.

Water and Money

Neighborhoods of flimsy houses without running water--shantytowns--surround many thriving cities in the developing world. Shantytown residents must often rely on bottled or trucked-in water--which means they pay much more than their neighbors who are connected to the public system. In the extremely poor neighborhoods surrounding Jakarta, Indonesia, and Nairobi, Kenya, for example, water costs five to 10 times as much as in the town centers.